Home > Bible Study, hermeneutics, Israel, minor prophets, Old Testament > Studying the Minor Prophets

Studying the Minor Prophets


Among people I’ve talked to, who read or have read using the Horner Bible Reading plan, often I hear a common frustration:  that it’s hard to just read through some of the books (for instance, the minor prophets) when I really don’t understand them.  How should we follow the Horner reading plan and yet do specific-verse study?  The answer, of course, is not an “either-or” but “both – and.”  The Horner Bible reading plan is the groundwork layer, overall reading to become increasingly familiar with the Bible as a whole, but not intended as its own end with nothing else.  In addition to the genre-style reading, add additional study of different scripture texts — and the overall Horner reading will suggest many ideas for such further, in-depth study.

As with anything we have questions about in Bible reading, it’s best to pick a particular Bible book, find a good commentary or sermon series, and start listening/reading it through sequentially, through all the chapters of the study along with the actual Bible book chapters.  For commentaries and other resources, the “Precept Austin” site compiles good listings, on a Bible book basis.  At this point I prefer audio sermon series, and S. Lewis Johnson taught through most of the minor prophets.

From my general reading and sermon listening (through Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and some of Jonah), here are some of my observations concerning the prophets.

Not everything in the Bible was written to us (in the church age) as the primary audience.  We can certainly make application from the reading, while still recognizing the original intent.

Expanding further on this point, consider the wise words of J.C. Ryle (from Practical Religion, chapter 5)

Determine to take everything in its plain, obvious meaning, and regard all forced interpretations with great suspicion. As a general rule, whatever a verse of the Bible seems to mean, it does mean. Cecil’s rule is a very valuable one, “The right way of interpreting Scripture is to take it as we find it, without any attempt to force it into any particular system.” Well said Hooker, “I hold it for a most infallible rule in the exposition of Scripture, that when the literal construction will stand, the furthest from the literal is commonly the worst.”

Anyone who confuses the church with Israel, who does not understand Israel’s unique situation and the covenants established between God and Israel (the Abrahamic /Davidic as well as the Mosaic law), will likely become confused.  Likewise, anyone who comes to the text with the general idea, taught at too many churches, that all prophecy was fulfilled at Christ’s First Coming, will be confused over many specific things said in the prophets.  Instead, let the text speak for itself and do not try to “fit” what is said to any preconceived idea of how the prophecy is about something accomplished in the distant past (i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.).

We can make many applications from the overall minor prophet themes.  For instance, in Hosea and Amos — both written at about the same time period, to the northern kingdom of Judah — we can relate to people living in a very prosperous, and very secular and worldly society, a time of formalism in worship.  How often that indeed relates to our day, of worldly entertainment-oriented churches, with many people only observing the outward forms of Christianity but lacking the true heart substance.  In Jonah we see the attitude of the self-righteous who think God should only bless “us” and not our enemies.

As a general rule, the first books in the minor prophets section are thought to be “earlier” in time than the later books:  Hosea and Amos were contemporaries in the 8th century B.C.  The last few books in the set — Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi — are the post-exilic prophets, and the book just before those (Zephaniah) was just before the exile, contemporary with Jeremiah and King Josiah.  Sometimes, as with the smallest book of Obadiah, we know very little about the book’s time setting (other than the general idea that it probably was written earlier during the prophets), and yet we can take comfort in the fact that it’s not necessary to know such details in order to understand the message of the book.  In Obadiah the prophecy is Edom’s doom, and we know about Edom from earlier in the Bible, especially in the Genesis section dealing with Jacob and Esau.

Also generally, the prophets first speak of judgment — and spend a great deal more time there — followed by briefer yet certain promises that God will not forever abandon His people.  Amos contains 8 1/2 chapters of judgment, followed by the wonderful future promise in the last part of Amos 9.  Hosea too is mostly focused on the judgment.  We find the prominence of judgment rather discouraging, but here I remember also that Jesus spent far more time talking about hell than He did about heaven.  Before we come to the great news of salvation and our glorious future, we must recognize our tremendous sin guilt, to be confronted and warned to flee from the wrath to come.  Yet we can also hold on to these treasures, the promise of redemption and that God will not forsake His people forever (with meaning specific first to the Jews, but also to all the people of God, including us who have been grafted into the Romans 11 olive tree), of the wonderful things yet to come.

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  1. Rayn
    April 22, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Hey. 🙂 I thought you might want to know I have found your comments helpful and I am trying the Horner Reading Plan again. I’m not actually a critic of the system. I really like it, I’m just having difficulties because the main point of the plan is so much different from my previous methods of Bible reading. I’m mostly following the original lists, although I’ve shortened it to eight by relegating Proverbs to Job/Ecc/SoS and Acts to the second set of Epistles. I’ll try to get in the habbit of reading more for less time first and then I’ll start modifying it to fit my personal study interests.

    Also, great quote by J. C. Ryle. Even with my limited understanding of prophecy, I definitely agree with you on replacement theology. It holds no exegetical weight and doesn’t make any logical sense. And I think it’s good for us to read about the wrath of God and the horrendous nature of sin because it humbles us and makes Christ all the more dear to our souls. I have a personal belief that many Americans who even profess the name of Christ are worshipping an idol because they read their Bible so little that they seldom encounter God’s true nature as He plainly reveals to us.

    Thanks and God bless!

    • April 22, 2011 at 7:22 am

      Thanks for the update — it’s great that you’re continuing the Horner reading plan and experimenting with different genre lists. 🙂 Yes, unfortunately too many American Christians (and likely elsewhere too) really don’t know the God they profess to worship, since they spend so little time reading God’s word.

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